Few caves in the National Park System offer a more stunning array of geological formations than
©National Park Service
A stunning array of geological formations can be found at Oregon Caves
Many different types of ever-changing formations fill the cave. Pendant decorations hanging from the ceiling are called stalactites. Formations growing up from the floor are stalagmites. Sometimes the two meet and fuse, forming a column. Dripstones decorate the walls where water drips into the cave. Graceful formations called flowstone were slowly deposited as water seeped quietly over walls and floors.
Oregon Caves were discovered in 1874 when local rancher Elijah Davidson followed his dog into an opening in the mountains while chasing a bear. The cave quickly became a popular spot for tourists.
Tours provide a look into the cave's geology, ecology, and inhabitants. Cave creatures include the Townsend's big-eared bat and numerous blind, colorless insects. A grasshopper-like species found here in 1989 is believed to be unique to Oregon Caves. To find out what kind of creatures live in the cave, park rangers set out traps baited with Limburger cheese. Wildlife also abounds outside the cave. Black-tailed deer, porcupines, and giant Pacific salamanders inhabit the lush Siskiyou National Forest that surrounds the cave. Nature trails lead past mountain streams, mossy cliffs, fields of wildflowers, and a 1,500-year-old Douglas fir that is 40 feet around. The Cliff Nature Trail, which climbs to an elevation of 4,000 feet, provides panoramic views of the countryside.
For a century after the
For several years now, the Park Service has been working to restore the cave to its original condition. Because asphalt attracts exotic organisms as it decays, all the old paths are being replaced with high-tech walkways, and lower-wattage lights will replace the bright bulbs that encourage moss and fungus growth. The changes will improve air flow in the cave so stalactites and stalagmites won't freeze and break in the winter, and cave creatures can move about more freely.
Hours of Operation: Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas; call for tour times
Admission: Cost of tours varies
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed
to numerous guidebooks about the